Malaysia: Wake up call for Singapore’s civil service

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah


Can Singapore learn from the latest Malaysian experience? Should the day come when there is a change of government, will the civil and public services be up to the task of carrying out a smooth transition?

They have to, unless they seriously and naively believe the People’s Action Party is going to be around forever which even the party’s leaders acknowledge is not possible in a system where there are free elections. We are neither China nor North Korea.

I quote Lee Kuan Yew: “There will come a time when eventually the public will say, look, let’s try the other side, either because the PAP has declined in quality or the opposition has put up a team which is equal to the PAP and they say, let’s try the other side. That day will come.”

He added: “No system lasts for forever, that’s for sure. In the next 10 years to 20 years, I don’t think it’ll happen. Beyond that, I cannot tell. Will we always be able to get the most dedicated and the most capable, with integrity to devote their lives to this? I hope so, but forever, I don’t know.”

Any dominant party will have all the levers of power to entrench itself as long as it could. The Barisan Nasional (ex-Alliance) was in charge for 61 tears in Malaysia. It had all the advantages of an incumbent versus an untried opposition. It looked untoppable. In the end, all the so-called advantages did not matter that much. It was the party’s own toxicity – one that it self-created – that brought itself down. Plus perhaps a whole new generation of voters – all races – who are just frustrated that such a resource-rich country could be held back for so long. And, much as I do not like to sound like a broken record, in the smartphone age, nothing can be hidden for long.

There are two things Singaporeans can do.

The first is learn from Malaysian GE14. It has happened right at our doorstep.

If we count our self-government from 1959, the PAP has been in power for just two years short of the Barisan Nasional. LKY and his team grew up together with their government agencies until they passed the baton to Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong. In fact the first generation leaders practically created the agencies (and GLOs), including Jurong Town Corporation, Economic Development Board, Housing and Development Board.

The top civil servants have either been absorbed into politics or put in one corner in one think tank or another. It will be an awkward situation when the change of government takes place. They owe their loyalty to the establishment, their former boss.

This intertwining of government and political leaders elite, top civil service and mainstream press apparatchiks is very Japanese – as written about in Ezra Vogel’s Japan As No 1 – where he described how everyone totally trusted one another as one big happy family. One big happy family.

Hence, we may have a problem in a government transition. But, now with the Malaysian power change, there must be a total mindset transformation – or we will be caught unprepared. It has to be ingrained into everyone that no political leader or party is bigger than the country. Nothing is impossible.

For example, Pakatan Harapan’s takeover in Malaysia does not seem to have killed the press there. In fact, newspapers and online media which were once slavishly pro-BN are now competing with one another to be objective.

AFP reported: “State-linked media, which had seemed increasingly out of step with the views of many Malaysians yearning for change, wasted no time in switching their support to the new government.

“They had spent years backing ex-leader Najib Razak – reporting in only a muted fashion on a massive financial scandal that helped to topple his regime – but quickly began giving blanket coverage to a flurry of fresh revelations related to the controversy, and to the new government of 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad.”

If there is a will, there is a way. I think the Singapore civil service should not waste time to learn as much as possible from its Malaysian counterpart just how to carry out a smooth and professional transition of power – when it is Singapore’s turn to do that.

The second thing Singaporeans can do is to wish our Malaysian relatives and friends well and celebrate with them every step of their well-deserved new dawn.

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.


  1. Stupidity does. Otherwise how to explain why the oppositions parties in Singapore hasn’t got into parliament yet nor contributed in any way for the last 50+ years.

    How long does one have to play a game to know how to defeat the winning side?

  2. BN has created roughly the same problem as what the whites has create for spore. 1MDB = GIC and Temasek, no accountability took citizens money without asking. Flats that took us live long to settle the mortgage doesn’t belong to you when the lease runs out!! but over the decades, this was not the tune that the whites were singing, they blatantly lied to the whole of spore that HDB is a appreciating assets under the asset enhancement scheme and then turn the opposite way abruptly leaving spore at a lost, basically crashing the resale market for flats that are more than 30 years old let alone those that we already 50 years old. CPF is not your money, it is our live long savings, and in the end, the whites has the cheek to tell its citizen that the money in our account does not belong to us?!!! as if that is not enough, they raise cost of living like there is no tomorrow, water, electricity, C & C charges and later GST, but tharman told us we have enough to spend and the current finance minister told us we have billions in reserve, how to belief them? before BN falls, everything in msia seems rosy and najib still announced that msia has achieved a 5.9% GDP growth, after BN falls, msian found themselves in debts exceeding 1 Trillion RM. all these whites plus their mouth piece media are doing sporean injustice, kick them out and in order to find out the true state of affiair, be it financial and socially, we need to know and not being told what they want us to know!!!!

  3. There were many out there questioning the creditability of oppositions replacing government if we vote the whites out. How about we look at the current team and ask ourselves how many high caliber ministers that deserved our votes for them to continue ruling sg? How about abolishing GRC n go with SC to proof their worth n trust from the people?

    • Wrong ! Senior Citizens and new citizens and some cowards are aligned to pap. But if you take statistics, there are 65.5% to date . So if we have election now , PAPAYA will still win 65% . I dare you Singaporean , you will never change

  4. Corrupt regimes cannot last forever and any government must care for its people. However, it is true that “no human being is free from potential corruption”, the challenge of any government is to fill their ranks with people with honesty, with integrity and yet also capable and committed. THIS IS THE SECRET OF HOW TO STAY IN POWER! It’s not easy but should be possible with the right mechanism and morally strong government. Malaysia has shown to the whole world how institutions can be easily manipulated by Corrupt Prime Minister and his Cronies.

  5. Meanwhile, … I still trying to imagine how one can pay themselves millions while hundreds / thousands or people are struggling and suffering??? (Where does these money / payment come from in the first place? how can a good people sleep well knowing that these money comes from the people of which many are struggling and some even suffering …) Instead of tightening the belt, be thrifty, avoiding extravagance spending, celebration, fireworks, etc and cost cutting and bring down wastage, some still continue to increase tax, and water and electricity hike, tertiary school fees hike, some still wanna increase GST from a already high GST rate? (Ironically, some still say they wanna preach tackling of inequality and some say they help the people to manage the already “super” high cost of livings?)

    Something really hard to believe and/or understand : will good leaders boast about their ability to so call govern and generate so call profits and/or make good money and/or get paid ownselves millions (so call claiming their worth) at the expense of its people?

    Know how in the past how Kings, tyrannosaurus Rex, Lords, Rulers feed on their subject and peasants?

  6. the scorpion connection was a planted story to divert attn from the real plot….. n to prove that Altantuya never had a part in the corruption deal as Baginda had said to “poison the well”.

    Baginda’s wife shouted “he is not the 1 who wanted to be PM” … this must be the Freudian Slip, the key to the whole murder.

    the foreign powers wanted to install Najib as their Puppet PM (king) not only to plunder Msia’s wealth but for other very nasty geo-political sinister agenda.

    there is only 1 caveat. there’s no telling when a puppet king can turn around to bite them when pressed to mass murder like MH370 & MH17 or to plunder like 1MDB.

    Obama another Puppet King visited Msia n Najib 2 times within 2 years. never happened before. this means Najib was their prized puppet king designed to do very very evil things for the western Kabal. Like WWIII?

    Lincoln, Putin n JFK are the famous ones. as we know Lincoln was pressed to start the worst genocide in American history … the American Civil War. slave issues were just the Political Excuse. when Lincoln tried to set things right in his 2nd term, he was assassinated.

    Putin made a dramatic turned around as soon as he got elected using the western Kabal’s support n platform. the western Kabal retaliated with the Kursk Submarine tragedy months later, to destabilise Putin’s Russia in the hope of disposing Putin. they failed. Putin, an ex KGB officer with his network of “underground” patriotic Russians, were just to smart for them. the westerm Kabal oligarchs were severely outmanoeuvre n outplayed. that’s why Russia is such a strong country, after nearly a decade of purging all the western kabal moles. we need to clean house like Putin did, if we r to survive n prosper after Najib’s regime of SST.

    JFK was the Kabal’s choice as their president. he n his brothers turned against the Kabal for the greater good of the nation. he was assassinated on an evil satanic date 22 Nov 1963. (2211). n to blow JFK’s brain out (ensure 100% fatality) Jackie Kennedy was passed a gun, n it was her shot at close range that blew off half of JFK’s brain. Jackie with a dark french past was of course the planted mole-wife on all US presidents. present UK PM Theresa May too has a dark history of being mind-controlled.

    so to put an invisible unbreakable leash on Najib, they 1st lure Najib with a Mongolian beauty. that was easy since najib was a skirt chaser. next they instigated Rosmah n leaked najib’s affair to Rosmah (a powerful wife mole to control Najib at close range). then they sat back n watched the whole “minggu ini drama” unfold.

    if Najib managed to survive politically, then Najib was fit n ready to be the Kabal’s next puppet king. remember Rosmah kept saying all the scandals were God’s tests ….yeah but which god? GOD as in Greedy Oligarchs Devils.

    Najib was not the only Kabal puppets n moles in Mahatir’s cabinet.